African American Studies
Dr. Dorothy Pita was born and raised in the Bronx. She worked as a teacher in the South Bronx starting in 1950 at PS39 and later at PS18. She mostly taught Latino and African American kindergarten students of low-income. She remembers parents not being involved in their children’s education, but the students were also well-dressed and not malnourished
While she was a teacher, the Patterson Houses and other housing projects opened, and at the time it was seen in a positive light. The school had after school programs as well, and throughout the 50s she doesn’t recall any racial tensions, but people did get scared when Latinos moved into formerly-white homes.
She took time off teaching after getting married and moving to Brooklyn Heights, but returned in 1968 and became the Black Studies Coordinator at her school. By then, the Italians had gone and had been replaced by Latinos and African Americans. She recalls that when the minority students were in Kindergarten, they were normal, but as they entered third grade “it had hit them that they were black” – behavior which she hadn’t noticed in the ‘50s, and had negative effects in school.
She recalls teaching “Nancy stories” and black spirituals to her students and noticed their behavior changed, likely because the students had a personal connection with this. At the time, heroin use grew in the Patterson homes, and she brought former drug addicts to teach her students about drugs’ dangers.
Eventually, a new principal came into the school and made things strict, she recalls kindergarten being more focused on reading, and teachers were focused less on pedagogy. Furthermore, there were budget cuts which cost many teachers their jobs. She didn’t like any of the changes.
Pita, Dorothy. Date of Interview Unknown. Interview with the Bronx African American History Project. BAAHP Digital Archive at Fordham.
Click below to download supplemental content.Pita, Dorothy.mp3 (56261 kB)